22 Oct 2002

Dispute continues over ownership of mahogany forests in Fiji

7:11 pm on 22 October 2002

A big protest is being planned in Fiji over the government's stance on the ownership of the country's large mahogany forests.

Isireli Fa, the lawyer for the Vanua Mahogany Landowners Association, says the government has shut the door in the faces of indigenous landowners when it comes to discussing what equity they should have in the forests.

He says they're rejecting a report from the Great Council of Chiefs that the state and the landowners should share the proceeds of the harvests 50-50.

And, Mr Fa says the association is pursuing court action because the landowners are being denied the option to buy the highly valuable mahogany.

"Firstly all those trees were clear felled without compensation, secondly the plantations that were planted on their land, they were paid a peppercorn rental of five cents per acre,.... now all these things were on the understanding that the landowners would have a substantive stake or equity in this forest or better still if they could buy, then they would buy out the government."

The case is being heard in the High court in Suva with the parties next making an appearance on November 18th.

Mr Fa says the protest is also likely to be taken to the streets this week and may end up outside parliament to ensure there's public attention on the issue.